Who needs feathered wings to fly? Perhaps not this recently discovered dinosaur. A dig in the Hebei province of China revealed the new small dinosaur species might have had wings that resembled a bat’s instead of a bird’s.
The Jurassic-period dinosaur was described in a paper for the science journal Nature. It has been named Yi qi, meaning “strange wing,” in Mandarin and according to the paper pronounced as “ee chee.” What makes Yi qi stand out from other dinosaurs are the long, rod-like bones paleontologists discovered extending from each of its wrists. They also discovered “patches of membranous tissue” which might mean the rods were supporting something similar to a bat wing.
“At first we just didn’t know what the rod-like bones were. Then I was digging into the scientific literature on flying and gliding vertebrates for a totally different project, and I came across a paragraph in a textbook that said flying squirrels have a strut of cartilage attached to either the wrist or elbow to help support the flight membrane. I immediately thought, wait a minute—that sounds familiar!” said study author Corwin Sullivan in a statement.
According to the paper, indications seem to lean toward Yi qi relying on gliding more than flapping but “the mode of aerial locomotion that might have been used by Yi qi is difficult to reconstruct on the basis of present evidence.”
Either way, the discovery adds a fascinating new element to how flight may have evolved from dinosaurs to the birds we see today.